Moral Harm & Moral Worth

Everything I write about moral philosophy is heavily influenced by Kant. But I never claim to write with any authority when I express Kantian themes. When writing, in my previous post, of how human choice completes the moral causation in a morally correct action, I just could not resist the temptation to included a flash of insight into what Kant meant by “moral worth.”

Kant did not clearly mean what I mean by the term. That is why after this post I will rarely use “moral worth.”

In this post, I first specify how I use “moral worth.” This specification expands my model of divine command morality. Second I offer my putative insight into what Kant meant by “moral worth.” This insight leads to the third and final phase of the post: a preliminary discussion of positive and negative freedom of the will.

I define “moral harm” and “moral worth” as co-relative terms. Moral harm is the moral result of an agent willfully disobeying a moral law. Moral worth is the moral result of an agent willfully obeying a moral law. They are moral results because by agents’ choices they come to be in the moral order or structure. By being in the moral order they are norms. Moral harm is a norm that there ought to be deprivation of good and moral worth is a norm that there ought to be good. Willfully disobeying a moral law is rejecting the good at which the moral laws aim while willfully obeying the moral laws is endorsing the good at which moral laws aim.

I am expanding my model of divine command or authoritarian moral thought. Although I still maintain that it articulates the moral thinking of many people. I have already made a case that that moral harm as the production of a norm that some harm ought to be is crucial in ordinary moral thought. Indeed, that thought generates authoritarian moral theory. Here the new feature is the willfully disobedient agent generates the harm requiring norm; not the divine moral authority. I can make a case that ordinary moral thought recognizes that willfully obeying a moral law ought to be followed by some good. It is the obedient agent who creates this norm

How did Kant use the “moral worth”? To answer, I review some ideas about moral action from my previous post.

A moral action results from the agent adding his or her choice that the moral law be obeyed to the partial choice of the moral authority that the law be obeyed. The authority’s choice is partial because it grants agents the freedom of will to complete the authority’s choosing. Free will is here the positive freedom, “freedom to,” to will as the moral authority wills.

Now if the agent’s choice is nothing but to obey the moral law, we have a case of pure or total moral causation. As a moral action nothing but the willing of the authority that the law be obeyed and the willing of the agent that the law be obeyed were operative moral causal factors. No physical factors were operative in the willing; only the moral factors of willing that the moral law be obeyed.

Kant seemed to hold that only pure moral actions had moral worth and he definitely never wrote that moral worth is the production of a norm that some good ought to be done.

With this concept of a pure moral action the use of “moral worth” leads to requiring the theoretically important taking a stance on free will along with theoretically uninteresting self-examination of motivation. How can I know if I chose what was right only because it was right? And: Is it really right that we strive to choose because but only because the action is right?

I do not pursue the self-examination questions.

I am forced, though, to confront a tension between positive and negative freedom of the will. Negative freedom, “freedom from,” would be choosing while being free from physical causal factors.

Perhaps Kant held that if choosing is not free from physical factors, then it loses its capacity to be free to choose as the authority chooses – it loses its positive freedom. I want to avoid interpreting Kant. So, I avoid further efforts to interpret what he meant by moral worth.

But I cannot avoid the problem of whether or not moral and physical factors can co-mingle in a moral action. I begin facing the problem in this post by announcing a dualistic stance on free will and mixed motivation.

The positive freedom to choose to obey the moral law is not lost in the moral order by the agent’s not having in the physical order the negative freedom of being free from physical causal factors for his choice. Only some moral motivation is necessary to place an action in the moral order.

I elaborate on this stance on positive and negative freedom in my next post.